Sri Lanka hold edge against inexperienced South Africa
Match factsSaturday, July 20, 2013
Start time 1430 local (0900 GMT)
Big pictureOne of the more interesting statistical quirks that has been uncovered in the lead-up to the first match of the series is that only two members in South Africa's 15-man squad have played an ODI in Sri Lanka before. Robin Peterson played two matches, in 2002 and 2004 but did not bat in either game, while JP Duminy played the entire series in 2004. Neither man has been a part of a victory.
Though most of this squad will have played elsewhere in Asia, Sri Lanka's heat, humidity and pitch conditions are a different enough challenge for South Africa's inexperience to shape up as a major deficiency. More seasoned South African hands have come to Sri Lanka in the past, and had little to show for their time here, losing nine out of ten completed ODIs against the hosts.
On arrival this time, South Africa captain AB de Villiers suggested that perhaps the inexperience was an advantage, as the squad does not collectively bear the psychological burden of previous losses. Given that Sri Lanka, too, are a vastly changed side, he may have a point. Sri Lanka's middle order is now a liability, even in their own conditions, and the bowling attack lacks the penetration that has daunted touring sides in previous years.
The home side are also playing their first two matches under their youngest captain. Dinesh Chandimal has both the talent and intellect to become a fine leader in the future but he has not justified his place in the side over the last two months and is under added pressure to turn his form around. He is in charge of an attack that is without its most dependable seam bowler, as Nuwan Kulasekara has been ruled out of the first two games due to a finger injury.
There are tougher first assignments for a 23-year old captain, but Chandimal will need more than just his characteristic on-field effervescence if South Africa's explosive batting order begins to fire. He does have the experience of the three senior batsmen to fall back on though, and their presence and good form gives Sri Lanka the edge in the first encounter.
Form guide(most recent first, last five completed matches)
Sri Lanka: LLWWL
South Africa: LTWLW
Players to watchAaron Phangiso had a decent outing in the warm-up match, taking two wickets for 39, but, after two mediocre showings, he will be eager to prove he can cut it at the top level and kick-off his international career. The tawny-coloured pitch should be more helpful than the ones he is used to at home and, as South Africa's most naturally attacking spinner, he might do well to quell the nerves early and focus on good flight. Sri Lanka's top six may feature three left-handers, which will make the left-arm spinner's job more difficult.
Shaminda Eranga will want to forget the last over that he bowled in international cricket. Faced with defending 15 runs off the last five balls of the innings, Eranga was flattened by MS Dhoni's phenomenal finishing. The selectors have indicated he is a talent they would like to develop in both ODIs and Tests and, in Kulasekara's absence, Eranga would do well to introduce the consistency that has been missing from his bowling so far.
Pitch and conditionsDespite cloudy skies for much of the week and an unseasonal deluge two days before the match, the ground staff at the R Premadasa have prepared a surface likely to assist spin, with some likely assistance for the new ball bowlers as well. Showers are forecast for late in the evening, but there is a good chance that there will be enough time to get a result, at the very least.
Team newsTillakaratne Dilshan is said to have fully recovered from the calf tear that prevented him from traveling to the West Indies, while a niggle that Lahiru Thirimanne picked up in the Carribean appears to have healed as well. Upul Tharanga will likely open alongside Dilshan, after his 174 not out against India in that tournament, while Angelo Perera may be in line for a debut. Ajantha Mendis' selection depends on whether Sri Lanka decide they need a second frontline spinner.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Dinesh Chandimal, 6 Lahiru Thirimanne, 7 Angelo Perera/Thisara Perera, 8 Rangana Herath, 9 Shaminda Eranga, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Suranga Lakmal/ Ajantha Mendis.
South Africa continue to wait on Morne Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe, both of whom have a 50% chance of playing, according to AB de Villiers. Morkel felt tightness in his thigh, where he suffered his most recent injury, while Tsotsobe's problematic ankle has flared up again. De Villiers said South Africa would look to play two frontline spinners whenever possible in this series, but they could end up fielding a an inexperienced pace attack on Saturday.
South Africa (probable): 1 Hashim Amla, 2 Alviro Petersen, 3 JP Duminy, 4 AB de Villiers, 5 Faf du Plessis, 6 David Miller, 7 Ryan Mclaren, 8 Robin Peterson, 9 Aaron Phangiso, 10 Chris Morris, 11 Rory Kleinveldt/ Morne Morkel.
QuotesThere are three guys who have captained the country before. I can get a lot of input from the three of them. We have done training well and hopefully in the first two games we will be able to get a good start and move on.
Dinesh Chandimal on having the seniors around in his first match as ODI captain
We can't do any worse here than we have in the past so it's a good opportunity for us to make an improvement and make people proud at home.
AB de Villiers on South Africa's record in Sri Lanka
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here